Replay Value in Games
Before I talk about my opinion on the matter, I’d like to go back and make sure we’re all on the same page with the background of this issue.
It’s fairly common knowledge in the gaming world that the reason there’s so much focus now on multiplayer games, multiplayer modes, and other features that cut into single-player gaming experiences, is because of the used games market. See, it’s well known that the used game market is crippling the games industry something fierce. A vast majority of gamers buy their games used, and when that happens the original publishers and developers don’t see a dime of that sale—all that money is kept by the gamestop or wherever you bought it at.
So developers and publishers try to work around this issue by increasing a games replay value to the point where gamers feel they’d get a better value keeping the game rather than selling it when they’re done with it. The easiest way to do that, naturally, is with a multiplayer component, because multiplayer tends to have a lot of variety, a lot of customization, and is usually enough to keep people attached. Some games do this more uniquely than others—Dark Souls, for example, also uses multiplayer to increase replay value, but since that multiplayer is infused seamlessly with the single-player mode, it doesn’t feel tacked on. Heck, it’s what keeps me playing, even though I’ve played the game so much I’ve literally memorized the location of every enemy in the game. Diablo lll is another example, which uses the real-money marketplace and the constant online connection to keep players fighting demons—if for no other reason than to earn loot they can sell to their fellow players for some real-life scratch.
But the vast majority of games can’t claim that sort of unique approach. Bioshock 2, Max Payne 3, Mass Effect 3, Kid Icarus, heck, even Dragon Age has a planned multiplayer mode for future releases, as the rumors go. Most of these games come from traditionally single-player roots, who have reached to multiplayer as the easiest way to extend replay value. With varying results, naturally, some pull it off much better than others.
And the problem with that, if you feel there’s any problem at all, is that tacked-on multiplayer components take time and money away from developing the single-player parts of a game, which results in less-than-satisfactory single-player experiences. It’s not uncommon for games to be much shorter nowadays, maybe only needing 10 or 20 hours to beat, although in some extreme examples it takes only 5 hours.
Compare that to older games before used game sales and obligatory multiplayer. Even a kiddie game like Kirby and the Crystal Shards takes a good 30 hours to beat, if you wanted to complete the game 100%. And then there are single-player powerhouses like Final Fantasy, which can take 80 hours or more to beat—and this was back with the PS2. You can see now how adding multiplayer can really distract developers from creating engaging single-player experiences, as they’ve done in the past.
But now that we’ve established that baseline, let’s move on to my opinion on replay value in games. While multiplayer is the only ‘scourge’, there are other tactics game developers use to increase replay value—random dungeons, DLC, moral choice systems, high scores, story splits, and the like are all used to try to convince players to put the disk in again after their first playthrough.
Replay value is important for game, perhaps more so than for any other medium. Music tends to be very short, so playing a song 60 times in a row is fairly commonplace, and it’s not like you can sell a song back. Movies also don’t require investment like a game does. If you want to waste time, you put in a movie. If you want to SPEND time, you put in a game, and when there are so many games in your library, and with that number growing, it’s easy to decide to only play a new game, or an old favorite, or just spend your time doing something else. Heck, books even have an edge over us, because while you can understand a story arch well enough with your first reading, breaking down each paragraph and sentence and analyzing the language means you can learn something new on your sixth or seventh time reading a book.
And, as we’ve discussed, when a game doesn’t have replay value, it’s resold, and then developers lose out on some much-needed or much-deserved cash.
But I’m of the opinion that a game that tries to resort to any of these tactics are derailing from a fundamental truth of video games—that they’re supposed to be FUN. And if you feel that you need to include moral choice systems or multiplayer or randomize the dungeon in order to keep players playing your game, you’re allotting your resources incorrectly. People should play a game a second time for the same reason they play it the first time—to enjoy themselves and have a good time. By using these tricks, it not only distracts a player from what should be the draw of the game in the first place, but it also draws attention to the insecurity the game makers have for their own game. I mean, there are four different endings to Bioshock 2, for example, and when I play the game a second time for the EXPRESSED purpose of seeing one of the other endings, the rest of the game feels like a bigger grind. It changes the mindset, is what I’m saying—when you play for curiosities sake rather than fun’s sake, all the stuff you’ve already seen feels like a grind, and you just push through it.
It’s not to say games should leave that stuff OUT—in some games its entirely appropriate to have a moral choice system, as the gameplay and plot it fused with those elements to the point where the game wouldn’t even be recognizable without it. But when you tack on these elements of ‘forced’ replay value, be they moral choice systems or DLC or multiplayer, it distracts, and what’s more, alters perspectives. Games are SUPPOSED to be all about fun, and when curiosity or challenge is used as the motivation for replaying a game rather than enjoying an experience the game developers crafted, it speaks poorly of the developers faith in their own product as well as spoils the entire replay experience.
So next time you consider replaying a game, ask yourself why you want to replay it, and if the game deserves to be put in again on those merits.